Residents of New Mexico’s Navajo Nation tribe are outraged by the oil and gas drilling ban, while House Democrats maintain that the decision is in the best interest of the tribe.
As per President Biden’s recent decision, for the next two decades, there will be a ban on all oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of the National Historical Park at Chaco Canyon. This move has sparked anger among many Navajos, leading some to block the entrance to the park to prevent Interior Secretary Deb Haaland from attending a celebratory event.
A hearing was held by the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee to discuss a bill introduced by Arizona Republican Congressmen Eli Crane and Paul Gosar, aiming to “nullify” the ban. Several members of the Navajo Nation Council, including President Buu Nygren, argued that the ban negatively impacts the livelihoods of surrounding communities that heavily rely on leasing.
Despite the disapproval from the Navajo Nation, Democrats at the hearing maintained that the ban was in the tribe’s best interest. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York expressed her support for the ban, emphasizing its role in protecting Chaco Canyon from further fossil fuel development. AOC opposed the bill seeking to reverse the moratorium.
In his opening remarks, President Nygren challenged AOC’s argument by asserting that the Navajo people take their responsibility as stewards of Chaco Canyon seriously. He emphasized their long-standing preservation and protection efforts, which predated the park’s establishment. According to Nygren, the Navajo Nation government is best equipped to determine what is best for its citizens.
At the hearing, Nada Wolff Culver, who serves as the Deputy Director of Policy and Programs for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Biden administration, voiced her approval of the ban. She argued that the Biden administration had been consulting with tribes in the area since 2021. However, President Nygren claimed the rule was finalized without meaningful consultation and failed to respect the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty.
The Navajo Nation attempted to find a compromise with the Biden administration, but the attempt was rejected without sufficient explanation. President Nygren stated that the Navajo people felt unheard, and their concerns about their livelihoods were not addressed. The buffer zone established by the ban was seen as hurting tens of thousands of allottees.
Delora Hesuse, a Navajo tribal member, accused Secretary Haaland of failing to listen to their concerns or involve them in the rule-making process, despite promising to do so. Hesuse reported that the administration did not consult or consider the proposed compromise of reducing the radius from 10 miles to 5 miles.
Hesuse further claimed that the public land order had stripped tribal members, including herself, of their modest income from oil and gas payments effectively. However, Navajo Allottee Spokesperson Mario Atencio disagreed with his Navajo colleagues and argued that the order was necessary to preserve the environment of Chaco Canyon.
Representative Crane, who represents over half of the Navajo tribes extending to Arizona, expressed concern during the hearing that the ban effectively barred all private landowners and Navajo Allottees from leasing areas, which could lead to severe economic consequences.